Inside the Unique Manufacturing Workforce Development Program at NJII

NJII’s COMET (Collaborative Operationalized Manufacturing Engineering Training) initiative located at the NJII Advanced Manufacturing Center is focused on ensuring the opportunities to improve national security and readiness presented by advanced manufacturing become reality. The foundation of that effort is built on our workforce development program, as even the most advanced manufacturing equipment is only as capable as the team that utilizes and maintains it. That becomes increasingly clear with the austere environments and tight schedules faced by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Defense Industrial Base.

The NJII Advanced Manufacturing Center was established to build that workforce by providing hands on experience with the very equipment being evaluated for Point of Need Manufacturing and Contested Logistics. The COMET initiative is home to cutting edge advanced manufacturing equipment capable of producing polymer, metal, and electronic parts. We not only are evaluating the equipment for its potential capabilities in ideal settings, but also the reality of having warfighters with their disparate other demands on their time operate and maintain the equipment wherever it is deployed.

At NJII we believe in hands-on experiential learning. We take a phased approach to ramp-up training from foundational 3d printing on consumer systems up to industrial scale state of the art equipment. After starting with the basics of consumer level fused filament fabrication (FFF) polymer printing and entry level computer-aided design (CAD) and slicing, we give interns and junior staff members the opportunity to focus on the material processes that they are most interested in learning about. We also recognize that the technical workforce needed will be made up of every level from technicians to post-doctoral researchers, and NJII provides opportunities for every level accordingly. Not everyone will be suited for or need a 4-year degree to support advanced manufacturing and have a rewarding career, and so we are implementing certificate training programs in conjunction with equipment manufacturers. In turn though, some people will find a passion for research, and we are able to support graduate students and post-docs while they advance the technology itself and develop standards around the machines and materials.

At the core of our workforce development effort is a 10-week intensive summer internship. We bring together undergraduate students from a wide array of colleges and universities with a breadth of interdisciplinary backgrounds. Last summer’s cohort consisted of 20 interns, from 10 different institutions representing 12 different majors, and we are currently recruiting for an equally diverse team this year. We believe the workforce necessary to operationalize and fully utilize this technology requires collaboration between various fields from mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering, material science, industrial design, and more. This collaboration across disciplines is not often found in undergraduate programs and so we have developed what has been dubbed by our partners at the DoD, “finishing school for engineers.” At the end of the 10 weeks the team delivers a functional prototype built in response to a “real-world” prompt from the DoD. Last year’s prompt was to develop a “drive and fly reconnaissance drone.” The interns utilized our Agile Innovation Management framework, integrating components of Design Thinking to determine what exactly that could mean. In the end a functional hovercraft mixed with a quadcopter was built by the team, and they learned how to present their work in a professional way, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of their design and proposing what future development could look like. While the prototype was impressive, what was even more impressive to our DoD stakeholders was the cohort of engineers and scientists who were now ready to collaborate and communicate in a professional setting.

As NJII’s Advanced Manufacturing Facility continues to be equipped with cutting edge equipment, the NJII team is developing additional certification and training programs including work on Additive Manufactured Electronics, Advanced Polymer Printing, Metal and Hybrid Printing, and Digital Twin Development.

Learn more about COMET

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